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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mission to Texas

The year 1856 was an eventful one for James, beginning with the birth of two babies.  Maria’s fourth child, James, was born on February 14, and Hannah Jane’s third child, Francelia, was born on May 13.  The Utah territorial census of 1856 indicates that James, his two wives, and seven children were living in the Salt Lake 19th Ward.(1)

On Sunday morning, February 24, 1856, James Gammell heard his name read from the pulpit of the Old Tabernacle(2) in Great Salt Lake City.  He was called to go on a mission.  In the early days of the Mormon Church most missionaries were called in this same way.  They often had no notice until they heard their names and their assigned missions announced.  If a man didn’t happen to be in attendance on the morning his name was called, we can assume that his neighbors or family members relayed the message in a hurry!  James Gammell, along with other men from Great Salt Lake City, was assigned “To the North.”(3)   Other missionaries called on that Sunday morning were assigned to Green River, Las Vegas, Europe, Australia, and the East Indies.(4)   When the announcement was printed in the Deseret News a few days later, it included these instructions: “The brethren who cannot go without leaving their families upon the hands of the Bishops, had better stay and provide for their families before they leave—By order of the First Presidency.”(5)

Heber C. Kimball gave specific instructions to those missionaries called to go to the North.  He asked them “not to take their families, but gather up their teams, seeds, etc., and go as soon as practicable.”(6)  It is possible that James left immediately and spent a few months in Montana, a region that he knew well.(7)   But if he did actually go north, he had definitely returned by August, when he was assigned to go to Texas.  Years later a business associate, Joseph C. Walker, wrote that James “suspicioned [sic] that Brigham Young was down on him when he appointed him to go to Texas and remain there ‘till he brought all of the Mormons from there to Utah.”(8)

A letter to George A. Smith, one that James was not privy to, reveals a possible reason for the rift that James detected in the relationship between himself and Brigham Young.  In July Brigham wrote to Smith concerning an application to Congress for statehood, “…we have recently learned that some of our very good friends have gotten up and signed remonstrances, affidavits, and other documents designed to be used against us …Enclosed you will find the names of those said to have signed such documents.”(9)  James Gammell’s name was on that list, giving Brigham reason to question James’ loyalty.  Surely James must have anticipated that his signature on a public document such as the one described would not have gone unnoticed by Brigham Young.

James began to worry about his standing with Brigham, ”for upon that knowledge his future actions and efforts depended, and he brooded over the matter ‘till he decided he would know.”  He went to Brigham’s office and had a long talk with him, and “on his part he endeavored to make it the sweetest talk of his life…”(10)  The respectful and submissive tone of his letter to Brigham Young, dated August 20, 1856, seems to reveal James’ eagerness to repair his tarnished image in the eyes of the Prophet.  Addressing President Young as “Honored Sir,” he requested counsel and advice about traveling to Michigan on business and to see his son Orlin, who was living there with his grandparents.  He wrote that he planned to visit his relatives in Texas, and then mentioned that he hoped to rid himself of some of his questionable associates.  James concluded, “But in all this I place myself entirely in your hands, for it is very far from my feelings to stir a foot without your blessing and faith.”(11)  Coincidently or not, James was called to go to Texas, where he most likely visited his sister, his brothers, and maybe even his mother, who moved from Michigan to Texas sometime in the late 1850’s.

James left Great Salt Lake City on September 10, 1856, in a wagon company of more than twenty missionaries traveling to the United States(12) and to England.  The company included Elder Parley P. Pratt, called to the States, and assistant Church Historian Thomas Bullock, called to England.(13)  As they traveled slowly eastward, they met many companies of Saints, some from England, Wales, Denmark, and St. Louis, and returning missionaries and supply wagons, all headed for the Salt Lake Valley.  On October 2 they passed the Willie handcart company encampment, and then on October 4, they spotted wagon tracks along the Platte River trail that were made by Elder Edward Martin’s handcart company of 700 Saints, but they missed seeing them.  The next day (Oct. 5) they camped while James Gammell and Thomas Pierce set out to find them and to deliver letters to Elder Martin.  Gammell and Pierce, unable to find the Martin Company, returned to their wagon train.(14)  (Two weeks later the Willie and Martin companies encountered an unexpected blizzard in mountains of Wyoming. Halted by the deep snow and bitter cold, nearly seventy of the emigrants died of exposure and starvation. If the rescue party and supply wagons from Salt Lake City had not reached them, they all would have perished.)

By October 17, James’ company had reached Fort Kearney, Nebraska.  From there they “pursued [the] long and wearisome journey through Iowa and Illinois.  On the way [they] saw Nauvoo and the ruins of the Temple in the distance.”(15)  In late November they arrived in St. Louis, where James and the other missionaries dispersed to their various destinations.
  1. Hannah Jane’s children, Hannah and Isaac Brown, are listed. Maria’s son Samuel has probably died, and Francelia was not born until May.
  2. The building known as the Old Tabernacle was "erected [on Temple Square] in 1852 to replace the first boweries. This south-facing, all-weather, rectangular building with a half-dome apse at its north end was built of adobe. It was razed in 1877 to make way for the present Assembly Hall."  (C. Mark Hamilton, The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People, 1983.)
  3. “North” probably refers to northern Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
  4. On this same day two of my Crandall ancestors were called on missions: Myron Crandall to Green River and Martin Crandall to the East Indies. EGH
  5. Deseret News, February 27, 1856.
  6. Ibid.
  7. “The Pioneers”, author unknown. This article relates the history of James Gammell in Montana. It states that James, with a party of five men, came into the Ruby Valley with pack horses in the summer of 1856, and traded with the Indians.
  8. Joseph C. Walker, History of the Mormons in the Early Days of Utah, pp.62-64.
  9. Brigham Young, Letter to George A. Smith, July 1856.
  10. Walker, pp. 62-64.
  11. James Gemmell, Letter to Brigham Young, Aug. 20, 1856, from Brigham Young Papers, Church Archives.
  12. In 1856 there were thirty-one states in the United States. Utah was only a territory.
  13. The Mormon, November 15, 1856:2.  See also Parley P. Pratt Autobiography, pp. 400,419.
  14. Ibid.   (My gr. gr. grandmother Mary Lawson Kirkman was part of the Martin Handcart Company. Her husband and baby are buried in Wyoming. EGH)
  15. Parley P. Pratt Autobiography, p.401.

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